Last year, seminal 80’s/90’s pop-rock superstars REM announced that they were splitting it up after nearly three decades of making music. Some were distraught. Others wavered between “eh, what are you gonna do? They had a good run,” and “who cares?” Most people, however, said, “they were still a band? Weird.”
On Tuesday, odd-rock duo Ween announced that THEY were splitting up after 25 years of making music, and most people said, “who?” And while calloused and slightly sad, that response felt just about right– an indelicate testament to a couple of underrated musical geniuses.
For most people, their only exposure to Ween stemmed from one of a few places:
An appearance in 1994’s moderately funny SNL-skit-turned-feature-length-abortion It’s Pat.
Beavis and Butthead’s critique of their only minor hit, “Push th’ Little Daisies,” a bitterly joyful ode to wishing death upon someone you used to love.
“Voodoo Lady” a track about, well, a voodoo lady, that was featured in the movies Road Trip and Dude, Where’s My Car?
“Ocean Man,” from 1997’s brilliant, nautically themed record The Mollusk that was featured in the Spongebob Squarepants movie and in a 2003 Honda Civic commercial.
Those minor instances—with, perhaps, a few others that I may be forgetting—regrettably sum up Ween’s lack of success.
For me, however, Ween was so much more.
Music is often made of the moments we attach to it. Though scientifically nothing causes more sensory association than smell, I’ve gotta figure sound—music, specifically—isn’t far behind.
Ween is sitting in the parking lot of the old, abandoned Venture store smoking cheap weed out of a pop can while Pure Guava plays through the shitty speakers of your friend’s second-hand Oldsmobile.
Ween is driving with your friends to the lake on a sticky night during summer vacation, the 12-pack of pilfered Busch Light cans slowly warming in the backseat, rendering an already awful libation nearly undrinkable.
Ween is existentialism, and chaos, and art, maybe with a dusting of light brain damage caused by huffing VCR head-cleaner. But mostly, it’s about being young and irresponsible, an insanity borne of youth.
“Brothers” Dean and Gene Ween (Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman, respectively) started the band in 1984 in tiny New Hope, Pennsylvania, after meeting in an 8th grade typing class. Influenced by an early 80’s “DIY punk ethos,” they began recording crude cassette tapes of their spastic music. By 1989, they’d been signed to a label and released their 26-track, debut epic, GodWeenSatan: The Oneness. The music—like everything they did—was eclectic and offbeat, drawing early comparisons to similarly unclassifiable artists.
Unlike Frank Zappa, however, Ween never took themselves too serious as “artistes.” Void of pretention, they let their music speak for itself. And their catalogue—spanning 11 studio albums, 6 live records and countless singles, b-sides and online-only releases—spoke volumes.
From the soul-tinged beauty of “Sprit of ’76” from 1994’s Chocolate and Cheese, to the maniacal, Motorhead inspired cock-rock of “It’s Gonna be a Long Night,” from 2000’s Quebec, Ween seamlessly leapt from genre to genre in the span of 3 minute intervals, more ADHD than AC/DC.
Unsurprisingly, they succeeded stylistically at everything they tried. It wasn’t that the music was simplistic—it wasn’t—it was that they (along with their mostly stable touring band and regular recording partners) were REALLY fucking great musicians. Dean shred on guitar like Hendrix on Ritalin; Gene hit high-notes capable of making Prince blush.
Unfortunately, drugs and frantic live shows took their inevitable toll, as they are wont to do, and Freeman (Gene) eventually hit a wall, checking himself into rehab last year to deal with lingering substance abuse issues. A few weeks ago, he released his first solo album, Marvelous Clouds, and on Tuesday, told Rolling Stone, “For me it’s a closed book. In life sometimes, in the universe, you have to close some doors to have others open.”
In classic, erratic Ween fashion, Melchiondo apparently had no idea.
If this does spell the end, that’s too bad. Though they hadn’t released an album since 2007’s La Cucaracha, and it seemed unlikely that they’d ever top their early work, I’m betting they still had some magic to share. Their live shows—ridiculously long-winded pageantries of bliss and excess—were amazing. It would be a crying shame to deprive the world of such brilliance.
Here’s to you, Ween, for making the world a weirder, better place.